Ankur Mittal toiled in vain on the international circuit for almost four years in search of a World Cup medal. Now, he has two in a span of 24 days. It took Mittal less than a month to convert his silver into a gold. It was the same competition and same opponent; just a different venue. In February, Mittal was locked in an intense duel with James Willet in the double trap final of the Delhi World Cup. Willet had defeated Mittal by just one point to win the gold medal then. But it didn’t take long for the Indian to exact revenge.
The two shooters went head-to-head again in the final of the Mexico World Cup on Wednesday. This time, it was Mittal’s turn to raise his gun to the sky. The 24-year-old also equalled the world record set by Willet in Delhi, managing 75 hits in the final – the same as his Australian rival. World records, however, will be par for the course at all shooting events this year due to additional shots in the finals.
Both shooters started by missing only one of their first 30 targets at the Club de Caza in Acapulco, taking the lead together and battling again for the top position. Willet, the world number one in double trap, slipped in the sixth series, missing three targets, which gave Mittal the sole lead. Unlike in Delhi, Mittal did not fumble this time, maintaining composure to end the final by taking down 75 out of the 80 clay targets, two more than Willet.
“I wouldn’t call it revenge,” Mittal told the International Shooting Sport Federation’s (ISSF) website after the final. “James is a great shooter and winning and being defeated is all part of the game. The conditions in the finals range, I would say, were perfect. Wind affected most of the qualification rounds, but in the afternoon it was not so strong.”
These have been memorable few weeks for Mittal, who has gradually come through the junior ranks. He has been a consistent performer at the senior level, too, winning the Asian Championship gold in 2014 and a bronze two years later. Despite his dominance in Asia, Mittal struggled to stamp his authority at the world level. Before he won the silver in Delhi, his best World Cup performance was a ninth-place finish in Baku last year.
Ronjan Sodhi, a former world number 1 in double trap who also held the world record, isn’t surprised by Mittal’s sudden surge. “He always had the quality. He is composed and doesn’t lose focus in tight situations. In shooting, it’s essential to keep your emotions in control and Ankur does that well. He is poker faced, which works in his favour,” Sodhi says.
However, Sodhi points out that Mittal’s rise has coincided with a collective loss of interest in double trap following ISSF’s decision to scrap the event from the 2020 Olympics. Double trap will be discontinued in the World Cups next year onwards. This has resulted in severely depleted fields at the year’s first two World Cups.
In Delhi, there were just 20 entries in double trap while in Mexico, the number was 24. Most of the top shooters from Italy, USA and Great Britain — considered to be shotgun powerhouses — skipped the Mexico World Cup along with the heavyweights from the Middle East. The depleted field has resulted in the overall decline in standards, Sodhi says. “Earlier, the average score to qualify for the final was around 142 or 143. In the first two world cups, the cut-off for the final was set at 137 (Delhi) and 135 (Mexico),” Sodhi says.
Mittal qualified for Wednesday’s final with a score of 138, which he has shot twice before — at the 2014 Granada World Championships and Larnaca World Cup in 2015. On both those occasions, he missed the final. The qualifying score of 137 was identical to his tally at the Baku World Cup in 2015, where he failed to make the cut as well. In fact, he has shot as high as 144 in the past (2014 Munich World Cup) but still could finish only 11th.
“Because double trap is no longer in the Olympics, a lot of top countries aren’t going. USA didn’t even have one shooter despite the World Cup happening in neighbouring Mexico,” Sodhi said.
Mittal has said he will continue shooting double trap till the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games, where the event is still a part of the programme. But Sodhi feels he should shift to trap immediately. “There’s no point waiting for another year. Ankur is very talented, he will do well in trap as well so this is the right time for him to make the switch,” Sodhi says.